In 2004, young actor Eric Marlon Bishop took the idea of suffering for your art to a new level when he was cast as the lead in a big-budget Hollywood biopic.
Having built a steady career off the back of comedic roles, the ambitious thespian resolved to play the part of a blind man with the utmost respect, immersing himself in a world without sight. Upon the suggestion of the director, to achieve a complete understanding of the role, Bishop wore prosthetics over his eyes for 14 hours a day leading up to filming, in what he later described as a “jail sentence”.
The movie was Ray, and Bishop, known professionally as Jamie Foxx, went on to win numerous accolades for his portrayal of singer Ray Charles, including the Best Actor Oscar at the 2005 Academy Awards.
Foxx, of course, was employing a theatrical technique known as method acting. Popularised by Lee Strasberg, director of the Actors Studio in New York, method acting encourages performers to live like their celluloid alter-egos off-camera, in order to gain greater insight and understanding of the characters they play. This often results in a more accurate portrayal, with actors striving to inhabit their onscreen personas and, hopefully, walk away with some shiny hardware.
Despite cementing Foxx’s position in Hollywood, his experience did not come without its challenges, affecting both his physical and mental health. “After six hours of being blind, you lose the sense of how a person is physically,” Foxx has said of the experiment, describing feelings of claustrophobia and accompanying panic attacks that reportedly held up production.
Foxx’s is but one tale of leading men ‘going method’, and while it often produces iconic performances, many times it has resulted in serious mental harm, even tragedy. When talking to MH, Michael B. Jordan detailed his experience of bringing Erik Killmonger to life in Marvel’s Black Panther, isolating himself to understand the character’s lonely childhood. The role landed Jordan in therapy, a necessary step to readjusting to a normal social life (sound familiar?). Daniel Day-Lewis reported severe feelings of depression and anxiety as a result of living like a sociopathic 1860s gang member while preparing for Gangs of New York. Then we have our own Heath Ledger, who ventured into incredibly dark territory to bring the tortured Joker to life in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.
Such carefully engineered attempts at authenticity aren’t just confined to the big screen, though. Many of us inhabit roles in our own lives, playing up to social expectations, activating our work persona, even putting on a sanitised ‘phone voice’ in order to protect or hide a part of ourselves we feel may provoke or disappoint others. True chameleons, we adapt to situations, creating an identity we either expect of ourselves or assume others expect of us.
Yet as our cover man, Jay Shetty, argues in his 2021 book, Think Like A Monk, it’s a lack of authenticity that leads us down a path of stress and anxiety. According to the science, pretending – living inauthentically and acting our way through life – can often backfire, leading to some devasting health consequences. Unhealthy fluctuations in weight, anxiety, addiction, withdrawal and depression can all be effects of excessive pretending, according to psychologists at Harvard Medical School. Essentially, ‘faking it ’till you make it’ is more likely to result in ‘faking it ’till you break it’.
Why then do we pretend? Why do we method-act our way through life, attempting to conceal our warts, yet as often as not, muting our brilliance? Is it a fear of being vulnerable? Or of what others might think of us? Of being rejected? Or of being isolated for not conforming to society’s norms? It’s likely all these things. The problem? As heavy metal drummer Ben Gordon, so eloquently puts it, “try and be something you’re not, and the bullshit detectors go off”.
This month I encourage you to yell ‘cut’ on your act, to cast aside fear and call ‘action’ in your own life. There’s never been a better time to be a man, nor a more accepting culture to truly own your identity. The script has been flipped. Authenticity is having a long-overdue moment. So, go forth and play the greatest role of your life: you. It may not win you an Oscar, but you’ll undoubtedly be the People’s Choice.